One of the earliest Monuments to African American WWI Troops
By Paul LaRue
Ohio World War I Centennial Committee
A unique monument stands in the rural French countryside. It is a monument to the 372nd Infantry, an African American World War I combat regiment. The 372nd Infantry Monument represents one of the earliest monuments erected to African American World War I Troops. Of the more than 360,000 African American World War I soldiers, only 10% served in combat regiments.
The United States organized two African American combat divisions in World War I. The 92nd Division was organized as a complete division. The 93rd Division consisted of four infantry regiments that were transferred to the French Army. The French Army was very comfortable using African American troops; they had a long history of using Colonial Troops. Soldiers from Senegal and Morocco were an important part of the French Army. The French Colonial troops were considered fierce fighters, and were regularly used as shock troops.
The 93rd Division was quickly put into combat by the French Army. Ironically, the most famous African American regiment of World War I, the 369th, better known as the Harlem Hellfighters, was part of the 93rd Division under French command. The four infantry regiments in the 93rd Division were built primarily around state guard units from Illinois, New York, and Ohio. Ohio's 9th Separate Battalion Infantry was composed of nearly 700 enlisted men that formed the core of the 372nd Infantry.
The 372nd Infantry also contained soldiers from Guard units from the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maryland. The regiment was rounded out with men from Camp Custer (Michigan). On August 31, 1918, the 372nd contained 2708 men.
By late May 1918 the 372nd Infantry was in the front-line trenches in France. July and August saw the 372nd in combat. In late September and early October, the 372nd, 369th, 371st, and the 2nd Moroccan Division saw heavy combat in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, with American casualties of more than 2500 men (killed, wounded, and died of wounds). The 372nd Infantry's casualties were more than 600 men. The French awarded the 372nd Infantry with their prestigious Croix de Guerre and decorated the regimental flag. Today the regimental flag of the 372nd Infantry is housed at the Ohio History Connection in Columbus, Ohio.
The 372nd Infantry understood the significance of their service, and wanted to leave a monument in France to their fallen comrades. The officers and enlisted men of the 372nd Infantry created a fund for the creation of such a monument. They raised more than 10,000 francs for the monument before leaving France. In a letter dated January 9, 1919, the Commanding Officer of the 372nd Infantry, Colonel Herschel Tupes, spelled out the 372nd's objectives for the monument. First, with French assistance, to erect a monument to the 372nd. Second, to detail a plain granite monument with the inscription, "In Memory of the Members of the 372nd U.S. Infantry, killed in Action September 26, 1918 to October 7, 1918." Third, the monument was to be erected on a public highway near the furthest point of the 372nd's advance.
Today, the 372nd Infantry monument stands near a road approximately nine miles from Monthois (Ardennes) in the French countryside. The monument is neither maintained by the French or American Governments. Local French citizens and American groups help with the monuments maintenance. The link below is from the American War Memorials Overseas Inc.:
The Ohio World War I Centennial Committee has created a lesson plan on the 372nd Regiment:
The monument is a lasting tribute to the sacrifice of the 372nd Infantry, and all African American troops who saw combat in World War I.